Khat ... drug makes its way from Kenya to London via Heathrow airport
Sunday, June 03, 2012
The green leaves of the plant khat are flown in from Kenya and then chewed by users at dens across Britain.
The leaves give a high similar to that produced by amphetamines and side effects including disorientation and hallucination.
Khat is widely used in Somalia and neighbouring African countries. And although banned in the US, Canada, France and Germany it is still legal here — a fact that has made Britain the centre of a thriving import trade.
Anti-khat campaigners say Somali-based Islamic extremists al-Shabaab use cash from khat sales to fund terrorism. And they claim the al-Qaeda linked militants recruit directly from the UK’s khat dens, ensnaring youngsters who have become hooked on the drug.
The Sun witnessed a khat den in a dingy East London cafe. Piles of leaves were spread on tables as men sat around chewing.
SIXTY tons of a drug linked to al-Qaeda is imported into the UK every week and openly used by addicts — because it is not illegal here.
Some of the users, originally from the Horn of Africa, sat with eyes glazed. Others talked intently.
On a corner table a 19-year-old dental student munched khat.
He tapped his foot feverishly as he explained: “Khat relaxes me.”
But Abukar Awale, an anti-khat campaigner and former addict, tells a very different story. The 41-year-old dad of five got hooked in London after fleeing war-ravaged Somalia.
He said: “In Somalia khat chewing was for old men. When I arrived in the UK, Somali friends told me to try it as I was struggling with my asylum claim.
“It helped me forget my problems at first. Then I became addicted. I went from chewing two bundles a night to 12. I never slept. My self-esteem drained away. I was tired, sick and couldn’t eat. Only more khat took the sickness away.”
Abukar is in no doubt some khat dens are a front for those with sinister motives. He said: “Al-Shabaab uses khat dens to recruit young, vulnerable British men from the Somali community.
“Some who control the khat trade are sympathetic to al-Shabaab. Cash goes to them.”
Abukar wants the Government to make khat illegal as it banned the once-legal high meow meow. He said: “Meow meow was banned when white kids died but they do nothing about khat, which is destroying lives of young Somalis here.”
The middle-aged Somali who runs the East London café insisted khat is a harmless stimulant.
He said back in his home country the chewing den is like the traditional British pub. He added: “It’s very relaxing and social drug. Alcohol is much worse.”
On a good day he sells around 13 boxes of khat. He pays £70 for a box of 40 bundles. He charges users £2.50 a bundle.
VAT on khat imports earned the Treasury £2.9million in 2010.
A recent UN report said al-Shabaab gets funds from imposing a tax on khat. Others claim the group has tried to ban khat in areas of Somalia it controls.
The UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is currently reviewing khat’s status.
Side effects ... include disorientation and hallucination